There's been a lot of talk in the neighbourhood recently about Ibis poo. The droppings of this big white bird are apparently one justification for the City of Sydney council's proposed redevelopment of Fitzroy Gardens in Kings Cross. It seems many residents can't bear the white Jackson Pollock-style sprays of Ibis excrement splashed about the gardens.
Sure, there are bird droppings here and there, but in all the times I have been in Fitzroy Gardens I have never actually been hit by an Ibis projectile (although I have been shat on by a pigeon).
I was discussing Ibis and Ibis poo recently with some friends, as we sat just metres away from one's nest in Fitzroy Gardens, and it made me realise I knew very little about the bird at all.
Call me a fool, but I thought they migrated from Egypt during their northern hemisphere winter and returned home in time for summer. Because of this I had always thought they were such exotic, worldly birds. But the Ibis I was thinking of was actually the Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis Aethiopicus), which was worshipped and even mummified by Ancient Egyptians, who saw the bird as a symbol of the god Thoth, the patron deity of knowledge, writing, scribes and secrets.
Ancestors of this mythical bird now reside in sub-Saharan Africa and south-eastern Iraq and don't carry suitcases or Australian visas, preferring instead to build stick-nests in Baobab trees by the edge of waterholes in their homeland. They are also said to eat frogs, insects, small mammals and, curiously, other birds.
The Kings Cross Ibis is from the same family but seems to enjoy eating anything it can scavenge out of public garbage bins, much like rats do.
The Kings Cross bird is actually known as the Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis Molucca) and originates from inland Australia, according to Michael Morcombe's Field Guide to Australian Birds.
In NSW the birds liked to splash around the Macquarie Marshes in the northwest of the state but in the late 1970s, when inland Australia was ravaged by drought, the water-wading birds began migrating to coastal cities such as Sydney, Wollongong - on the NSW south coast - and even the Gold Coast in Queensland.
Hungry and thirsty after living in drought affected areas, the Ibis set up their Sydney nests in places like Centennial Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens, where water was plentiful and food could be pinched from groups of picnickers or nipped with their long beaks out of open garbage bins.
In the late 1990s, when drought again hit inland Australia, there was another Ibis push into the cities and their growing population began to disturb some residents.
City people couldn't bear these feral country birds' pungent smell or their nosy nature and began to regard the poor, refugee Ibis as a pest.
During the early part of the 21st century, local councils conducted culls of the birds in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Centennial Park and Darling Harbour, in which Ibis nests were dragged out of trees and the eggs crushed. In Bankstown, in Sydney's west, a professional pest exterminator was called in to shoot Ibis that were living on an island at Lake Gillawarna.
This extreme action prompted animal behaviourist, Ursula Munro, from Sydney's University of Technology to speak out on behalf of the birds:
''They are in trouble and we need to look after them,'' Dr Munro told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2006.
''It may be that the only viable colonies we have are the ones in the big cities at the moment.
''Theoretically, if we keep on destroying them we could force these birds into extinction.''
In 1998, there were 11,000 breeding pairs of Ibis in the Macquarie Marshes and two years later, there were none. And even though the drought is now over, they haven't been back to the marshland since.
A 2006 count suggested there were just 3500 Ibis living in Sydney, but Dr Munro told the Herald their numbers were much less. So where have all the Ibis gone?
Frankly, I don't care about Ibis poo anymore, I just care about the poor, unloved, native Ibis.